Norfolk Southern CEO to Testify as Officials Hold Railroad Accountable

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio – Holding Norfolk Southern’s feet to the fire is a phrase shared and expressed by officeholders and environmental regulators since the Feb. 3 train derailment.

Norfolk Southern President and CEO Alan Shaw is scheduled to testify today before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

Shaw will follow remarks by U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, and Bob Casey, D-Pa.

“My goal [Thursday] is to hold him accountable in front of, essentially, the American people in front of a publicly attended, publicly televised hearing in the United States Senate and [for] him to make these commitments that he has been making so far, but make them again, when I say that [Norfolk Southern is] paying for the water testing and the soil removal and the health issues that might come a year or two from now,” Brown said Wednesday.

He added that those commitments should include paying for tests, hotel stays and whatever it takes.

With Norfolk still removing soil below the first of two tracks that the U.S. EPA has ordered pulled up and remediated, the work has created additional chemical odors, noise and dust around the site. Although the air around the cleanup continues to be monitored with the only elevated levels near the worksite, the project has led to more commitments by the railroad. Norfolk Southern has agreed to provide additional financial assistance to those in the 1-mile radius of the site who feel unsafe staying there during the track removal and cleanup.

That assistance includes those in portions of Pennsylvania who may need temporary lodging, travel, food, clothing and other necessities.

The EPA has committed to holding Norfolk to completing the cleanup plan. Residents are getting another opportunity to speak to EPA representatives at a resource fair planned in the high school tonight from 6 to 9 p.m. Residents can ask face-to-face questions and learn more about the scientific equipment being used to monitor the air quality in East Palestine.

Meanwhile, the Ohio Senate Select Committee on Rail Safety has held two hearings on the derailment, including one Wednesday.

State Reps. Monica Robb Blasdel, R-Columbiana, and Lauren McNally, D-Youngstown, provided testimony before the Government Oversight Committee on House Resolution 33, which is a push for the U.S. Congress to pass legislation requiring railroads to inform state and local governments when hazardous materials pass through their jurisdictions.

After the Feb. 3 derailment, agencies did not know until hours later all the chemicals contained in the 38 derailed railcars and 12 additional cars that were affected.

Looking toward the next time a railroad accident subjects first responders and residents to hazardous chemicals, Gov. Mike DeWine announced Wednesday that Norfolk has committed to create a regional training center in Ohio for first responders.

“The derailment in East Palestine made clear that ensuring first responders are prepared for disasters involving hazardous materials is vitally important to the safety of communities,” DeWine said. “Often, first responders are volunteers, and their need to have the most up-to-date training and equipment is vitally important. Today’s commitment by Norfolk Southern is an important next step in the company’s commitment to make the citizens of Ohio and of East Palestine whole after the recent derailments, a commitment Ohio will continue to monitor closely.”

The commitment includes not only training classes at the Moorman Yard in Bellevue on March 22, but also a traveling program called Operation Awareness and Response. The program will give communities a chance for hands-on training with a locomotive, box cars and tank cars, as well as training with the AskRail mobile app for first responders to obtain information about rail shipments.

DeWine’s office also reported Wednesday that a new public dashboard has been launched by the Ohio EPA, which shows the levels of several of the chemicals of concern at 20 surface water sampling locations along Sulphur Run, Leslie Run, Little Beaver Creek, North Fork Little Beaver Creek and the Ohio River. While the levels of chemicals are currently in decline, the information states that residents should continue to avoid contact with the contaminated water.

With more than 320 completing the After Chemical Exposure survey, the East Palestine Health Assessment continues to show 231 people have reported headaches, followed by 184 with anxiety, 168 with coughing, 156 with fatigue or tiredness and 149 with irritation, pain or burning of skin.

(Office of Gov. Mike DeWine)

During his testimony to the Ohio Committee on Rail Safety, Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, director of the Ohio Department of Health, called the survey the best way to gain information about immediate effects in the weeks following the derailment, but also a way to start looking at health concerns long-term.

“We want to understand what we don’t know and many of the long-term questions. We don’t have a [crystal] ball,” Vanderhoff said. He noted that the effects of these chemicals can vary by length of time of exposure, level of the chemicals and the health of the affected person. Vanderhoff indicated his department will continue to study the effects on people and work with experts.

Vanderhoff said more than 170 private water wells have been monitored and about 40 of the 71 have shown trace numbers, but it is not believed that those are connected to the derailment. However, he believes the water in the area will require long-term monitoring.

As the region around East Palestine heads into spring, there continues to be some concerns from farmers, who have animals grazing in fields and will be harvesting winter crops and soon planting spring crops.

DeWine said a roundtable discussion for farmers will take place at 2 p.m. today at the Emmanuel Lutheran Church Education Building in Salem. The meeting will include the Columbiana County Soil and Water Conservation District; the Ohio Farm Bureau; the Ohio State University Extension; the OSU College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences; Ohio EPA; U.S. EPA; U.S Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency; USDA Rural Development; USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and others.

Brown met Wednesday with the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation’s Legislative Conference breakfast in Washington, D.C., to talk about the priorities for the 2023 farm bill. However, Brown also spoke about the concerns of residents in the East Palestine area, including farmers.

“My concerns are that Norfolk Southern needs to stand up and make commitments,” Brown said. He told how a woman with beef cattle about four miles from where the incident happened has a regular customer questioning whether they will be buying from her this year.

Brown said he is working with the USDA and the U.S. EPA to find resources to help pay for soil tests and possibly work with an organization such as the Food Animal and Residue Network, which has expertise in toxin impacts on animal agriculture.

Brown said a farmer just west of the Salem area has expressed concerns even though he thinks he may be far enough away.

“Norfolk Southern’s got a lot to do to satisfy the farmers, the crop farmers about the soil, the air, the beef cattle and the dairy farmers,” Brown said.

Brown also met with Vance on Wednesday. The senators have heard the same concerns from East Palestine residents and so it made sense they were able to come together on a bipartisan bill, the Railway Safety Act of 2023.

Others testifying today before the U.S. Senate committee include officials on the ground around the derailment site: Debra Shore, the regional administrator from the U.S. EPA; Anne Vogel, director of the Ohio EPA; Richard Harrison, executive director and chief engineer of the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission; and Eric Brewer, director and chief hazardous materials response, Beaver County Department of Emergency Services.

Pictured at top: A tank car sits on a trailer as the cleanup of portions of a Norfolk Southern freight train that derailed Feb. 3 continued in East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 15, 2023. (AP Photo | Gene J. Puskar)

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